Opposing The IRD : Here's The Documentary, But Where's The Coalition ?
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Mar 20, 2007 at 11:37:00 AM EST
Consider the positions of the Institute On Religion and Democracy Concerning : Global Warming and the Environment, Same Sex Marriage, the Middle East, War and Peace, reproductive rights. And, consider how much the IRD's voice gets projected in mainstream media. Now, consider these groups whose interests the IRD attacks: Environmental Groups, Women's Rights Groups, Reproductive Rights Groups, Peace Groups, LGBT Rights Groups ; The interests of all five of those political blocs are being effectively attacked by a single Washington DC agency and yet there never has either a public or a private ( to the best of my knowledge ) conversation among representatives of those groups, and Mainline Protestant and progressive Catholic groups, about how to work together, to oppose the effort of the IRD and its allies, and to advance common goals. Am I wrong on that ? I hope I am and fear I'm not.
One way of framing this issue is through the following rhetorical broadside:

Do you care about preventing war US war against Iran ?

Do think something needs to be done about Global Warming ?

Do you feel strongly about women's rights and desire to keep birth control and access to abortion legal ?

Do you believe gays, lesbians, and people with alternative sexual preferences should have the same rights as straights and not be made into second class citizens ?

Do you hope to prevent the world you live in from descending even further into a Hobbesian, Laissez-Faire free for all ?

Do you hold an ethos, or imperative, of social and economic justice ?

When then you care about the IRD, and you care about Renewal or Ruin? - The Institute on Religion and Democracy's Attack on the United Methodist Church, a groundbreaking new 25 minute video documentary on the far-right funded, organized effort to silence elements of American Protestant Christianity committed to addressing poverty and human rights, and vigorously opposed to war.

Point being:

Some who hold any of those particular concerns might not agree with the positions or agendas of other groups or constituencies also under attack by the IRD but the imperative for all of the groups I've listed to form a coalition, to make the political compromises necessary to form a broad front against the IRD's effort to take down the Mainline Protestant churches and so gut the liberal social justice tradition in America, is strong : band together or be isolated and  taken down one by one.

As I've written elsewhere:

"You may be an atheist, you may not be a Christian, but no matter ; regardless, whether you acknowledge them as such or not, your allies are being targeted and taken down, one by one.

It's a quiet war of divide and conquer, and you soon could find yourself alone, targeted too. Or, you could watch this video and learn. It's about more than religion. It's about strategies and tactics that, even if you're not a Christian, will sooner or later be deployed against groups you're part of. "

Here's the backdrop:

Once, not too long ago, the most prominent public face of American Christianity was not that of an apocalyptic death cult clamoring for Global nuclear war.

Within living memory of many in the US, mainstream America Christianity did not lust for war or seek to whip up the sort of religious hatreds that characterized the Crusades. Mainstream Christianity stood, nominally at least but often in earnest, for peace, justice, and social equity.    

To grasp how much American culture has shifted in the last few decades, consider: in 1964, the Johnson campaign's "Daisy" ad sunk Barry Goldwater's presidential bid by tarring Goldwater as eager for Nuclear war.

Now, GOP candidates suck up to preachers clamoring for nuclear war and we hear that the Bush Administration has been considering the "preemptive" use of tactical nuclear weapons against Iran. If the Bush Administration succeeds in provoking a new, and likely disastrous, war with Iran, initiated with the use of nuclear weapons even, here is one of the underlying reasons that such a course has become politically viable.

Even as recently as the 1980's, the mainline Protestant religious denominations, and the anti-war, anti-poverty, human rights oriented "social justice" tradition they held, exerted a big influence on national politics.

As Talk To Action Co-Founder Frederick Clarkson frames it :

Once upon a time, the member denominations of the National Council of Churches maintained a vigorous social witness. That's what such mainline Protestants as the Presbyterians, United Church of Christ, the Methodists, and the Episcopals called their stands for social justice including such things as civil rights for African Americans, equality for women -- including ordination, and opposition to the excesses of American foreign policy from Vietnam to El Salvador. While there was some conservative opposition to these advances over the course of the 20th century, including some schisms, the direction of mainline protestantism was clear.

Then, the strategic funders of the Right, such as Richard Mellon Scaife and several others, helped create an agency that would help to network, organize and inform internal opposition groups. That agency is still around and is called the Institute on Religion and Democracy [ from      
The Battle for the Mainline Churches
, Public Eye Magazine, Vol. 20, No. 1, Spring 2006 ]

Along with their progressive counterparts in the Catholic Church, the Protestant denominations that comprise the National Council Of Churches played a significant role in calling for an end to the Vietnam War and, later, opposing Reagan Administration support for far right Latin American regimes inclined towards death squads and wholesale massacres and alleged plans to invade Nicaragua.

In subsequent decades since then, that social justice tradition has been less vibrant and visible.

Why ? What happened ?

Renewal or Ruin? The Institute on Religion and Democracy's Attack on the United Methodist Church, sheds light on a 2 and 1/2 decade organized right wing effort to attack, tie down, break up, and silence the United Methodist Church and it's historic social justice tradition.

The Methodist Church, and the other denominational members of the National Council Of Churches opposed the Reagan administration's bellicose stance towards the old Soviet Union and the administration's apparent efforts to ratchet up the Cold War. Prefiguring the current Bush Administration, the Reagan Administration was packed with Christian ideologues steeped in apocalpytic Christian dispensationalist theological views and, according to many political commentators, the Reagan Administration wanted to invade Nicaragua. That did not happen, and some consider domestic US religious opposition to have been a key factor preventing such a war.

So, to make a long story short, "Scoop Jackson" Democrats, right leaning Democrats - some of whom subsequently left the party to join the GOP under Ronald Reagan - cut a deal with far right wing funders, such as Richard Mellon-Scaife, to form the IRD that would work to dismantle the socially progressive, antiwar Protestant denominations. Thus far, the effort has been a spectacular success.

Here's what has been lost in the intervening years since the IRD got to work, first by convincing CBS' "60 Minutes" to devote a show segment to smearing the National Council Of Churches as a "communist sympathizing" organization. The NCC was almost destroyed, its leadership almost silenced, but under the leadership of current soon to retire, organizational head  Bob Edgar, the NCC has begun to reassert its voice. Edgar's recollection of his religious and social activists roots provides a perspective, though, on how much ground progressive American Christianity has lost :

[ source ; Eisenhower Foundation PDF file, a discussion with National Council Of Churches head Bob Edgar ]

Bob Edgar:

I mark my entry into political life and the bridge between my faith life as a pastor in Philadelphia, an urban pastor, who founded the first shelter for homeless women in the city of Philadelphia, I mark my bridge from my faith tradition to politics, based on the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King.

And the civil rights movement had an impact, not just on the black community but on the white community, as well. I grew up in a white suburb of Philadelphia. I grew up in a blue-collar working-class family. But I 20didn't really see poverty until I was about a senior in high school. And the United Methodist Church had what they called "come see" tours, where they literally put young people on buses and took them into the city of
Philadelphia, and into the city of Chester, to see with their own eyes the impact of policies on the poor.

I met Dr. Martin Luther King five weeks before he was assassinated, here in Washington DC. I came to the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, where a group of laymen and clergy were concerned about the Vietnam War, and William Coffin was the organizer, former chaplain at Yale and later the lead pastor at Riverside Church in New York. I love what Bill Coffin once said. He said, "God loves you the way you are, but he knows you
can do better."

I went into the church having to cross a picket line. And in those days, the Jerry Falwell of that day was a guy by the name of Carl McIntyre, who was carrying a sign that said "Kill a commie for Christ's sake". Crossed that picket line, went into the 21church, went up into the balcony, and listened to speaker after speaker connect the issues of war and
the issues of the poor.

The Mainline Churches have NOT been silenced : indeed, last month I interviewed Jim Winkler, General Secretary to the United Methodist Church's General Board of Church And Society, who was part of a peace delegation to Iran that simply sought dialog, in hopes of lessening mistrust between the United States and Iran. Winkler had strong words concerning groups such as Texas Pastor John Hagee's CUFI ( "Christians United For Israel" ), a group that's lobbying for a US attack on Iran : " I don't even know how they can be referred to even as Christian any longer to be honest with you. It's..... It ought to be put in quotes because they've veered so far off from the teachings of Jesus Christ as to be virtually unrecognizable in terms of historical Christianity and, they're..... they're vehemently pro war and they've lost their moorings in terms of faith in Jesus Christ."

The National Council Of Churches, which represents 45 million Americans, was represented in the peace delegation. NCC is headed by an active proponent for peace, the Rev. Bob Edgar. But, despite the fact that the religious delegation represented over 10% of America a Washington DC press conference given by the delegation upon arriving back in the US was almost totally ignored by the US media. Jim Winkler, Bob Edgar, and other mainstream Protestant leaders were also among religious groups who travelled widely in 2002 and 2003 trying to stop the Bush Administration's push for the invasion of Iraq,and the US media ( but not the world media ) ignored those efforts too. While the social justice tradition embodied by the delegation has not been silenced, the work of the IRD has probably hindered the ability of social justice religious groups to project their message.    

The work of the IRD has probably made it easier for the Bush Administration to push for war. But that's not only only reason to pay attention and even if you are not even remotely inclined towards religious beliefs you should be concerned. Why ?

Well, the IRD does much more than attack the mainline Protestant Churches :

The Institute On Religion and Democracy has recently played a pivotal role in organizing opposition to action to curb Global Warming ; the IRD in fact has a whole website section devoted to minimizing and ridiculing the threat of Global Warming. The IRD also works to advance the antiabortion, anti-gay, and anti-contraception ideologies within mainstream American Christianity. To top if off, the IRD is pushing for war with Iran.

The IRD has been stunningly successful with key efforts to attack environmental initiatives, push for war, advance a regressive social issues agenda, and hinder the ability of the Mainline Protestant Churches to advance a progressive agenda or oppose the push, by the Bush Administration, towards widepsread war in the Mideast.

Consider the IRD:

IRD on the Environment
IRD on Same Sex Marriage
IRD on the Middle East
IRD on War and Peace
IRD on reproductive rights

To get a sense of the level of media play the IRD gets, see IRD in the media

Now, consider these groups whose interests the IRD attacks:

Environmental Groups
Women's Rights Groups
Reproductive Rights Groups
Anti-War Groups
LGBT Rights Groups

The interests of all five of those political blocs are being effectively attacked by a single Washington DC agency and yet there never has either a public or a private ( to the best of my knowledge ) conversation among representatives of those groups, and Mainline Protestant and progressive Catholic groups, about how to work together, to oppose the effort of the IRD and its allies, and to advance common goals. There's now a growing ecumenical Christian concern over poverty, so there's some recent improvement to point to.

But the work of the IRD has for far too long been spectacularly, dismally successful and, in the vacuum left by the fading voice of elements of Christianity opposed to war, a new version of Christianity that espouses a "theology of war" and lusts for a nuclear inferno, has muscled onto the national stage.

How did it come to pass that the voice of "Christians United For War" has come to overshadow, in media presence if not necessarily in numbers, the voice of Christians for peace ?

For one part of the answer to that question....

Meet the IRD: "Renewal or Ruin ?..."

Bruce, this goes well beyond Hobbes, who at least made some contribution toward Enlightenment ideals. Instead, this is a reach back towards Caesars and other tyrants. The IRD is all about reputing all liberal thoughts and freedoms that were the hallmarks of our American Revolution. As such, they need to be exposed, and their poisonous story needs to be properly tld in the mainstream media.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Wed Mar 21, 2007 at 07:29:40 AM EST

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